JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. —
Family members, friends and fellow Airmen came together May 2, 2019, in Port Wentworth, Georgia, to memorialize the lives of the nine Puerto Rican Air National Guard Airmen who lost their lives when their C-130 Hercules, assigned to the 156th Airlift Wing, crashed shortly after takeoff one year ago.
“The agencies involved at local, state and federal levels have done an amazing job from the recovery efforts to comforting the families with this memorial here today,” said Chief Master Sgt. Reginald McPherson, Georgia State command chief. “When you are in the military, you write a blank check to the government… Unfortunately, these nine men paid the ultimate price to this country with their lives.”
The fathers, sons, brothers and Airmen lost—Maj. Jose Roman Rosado, Maj. Carlos Perez Serra, 1st Lt. David Albandoz, Senior Master Sgt. Jan Paravisini Ruiz, Senior Master Sgt. Victor Colon, Master Sgt. Jean Audiffred Rivera, Master Sgt. Mario Brana Ortega, Master Sgt. Eric Circuns and Senior Airman Roberto Espada Gali—are the nine heroes of their homeland known as “Rican 68.”
“Through all the pain and suffering…being here, in this town, with all this love and support, it has really shown us, the family members, a lot of people appreciate the sacrifice they made,” said Luis Espada, brother of Senior Airman Roberto Espada Gali. “The past year has been rough... We didn’t go to his house for Christmas this year like we usually do … That was his birthday.”
Team Charleston Airmen, along with other local, state and federal officials played an important role in the search and recovery efforts of the incident. The tragedy forced the base to mobilize and employ the skills they are constantly training to sharpen. Team Charleston held a memorial nine-mile ruck Wednesday, May 1, 2019 to honor the fallen Airmen.
“I had the honor of being with the 156th in Puerto Rico for 14 years,” said Lt. Col. Cesar Lozada, 315th Airlift Wing pilot. “I worked with, and knew, seven of the nine Airmen and got to work with the other two during humanitarian response efforts after Hurricane Maria. They were good men.”
It can be hard to see any silver-lining within the cloud of despair surrounding “Rican 68,” but after a year, the incident is now being used to train new aircrews and develop more effective contingency response efforts to mitigate incidents such as this one.
“The U.S. military takes tragedies like this and we learn from them and the results the investigations yield. Being a part of both teams and being able to help my ’brothers‘ families in their time of need makes me proud,” said Lozada.
The loss has affected a number of families, including the Air Force family.
“Considering what (Puerto Rico has) been through, between Hurricane Maria and the loss of nine of their finest men, they have a long road to recovery ahead of them. But I think the 156th and the Air Force will play a big part in the healing process moving forward,” said Lozada.
“Rican 68, A Year From Departure”
By Veda L. Cruz Rivera
Today, they are known as RICAN 68.
The nine Boricaus, that in Savannah, Georgia
An aircraft accident, their lives cut short.
For US, they are Carlos, Jose, Eric
Mario, Audi, Jean, Victor, Roberto, David.
A tragic event that changed our lives.
But I write these lines, not to speak on what life
has taken from us,
But to remember the good times that each one
of you, nine left behind in our lives.
And it’s here that we remember the great legacy
of valor and service that you have left for us.
By helping hundreds of citizens, when the hurricanes
struck, and countless other moments,
that you have safely guarded in your hearts.
You left unexpectedly, leaving us without time,
to tell you how significant you are.
Now more than ever, we appreciate each unforgettable
memory, of dreams, disappointments, of many
achievements and feelings.
We deeply guard each memory within our hearts,
and today, we want to believe that you are all in
a better place. That you have all left in peace, and
all your dreams have been achieved.
RICAN 68, YOU WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN.